August 7, 2016 A+D
St. Luke 18:9-14
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tax collectors were evil people in the Roman world. They were not mid-level, government bureaucrats trying to do their jobs. They were not like tax collectors in American.
They had betrayed their people in order to fleece them. They were mercenaries. A tax collector was like an abortion doctor among us getting fabulously rich by going into the poorest neighborhoods and performing abortions on the undesired of our country.
The point is that tax collector had done some truly vile things and he had earned the Pharisee’s disgust and anger.
The problem with the Pharisee was that he looked at the tax collector and saw him according to his sins but not according to his need. He forgot that the purpose of the Temple was to cleanse sinners, to restore men to God’s mercy. The Lord desires that all, even abortionists and pornographers and terrorists, would come to repentance and receive the salvation that He has won for them. The Pharisee had forgotten this and thought that he deserved to be there and that his outward righteousness was an indication of God’s favor.
This damned the Pharisee. He went home damned. Not everyone goes to heaven, not even all decent, Church-going folks go to heaven. I am well aware that it is not only Lutherans who go to heaven. Are you aware that it is equally true that not all Lutherans go to heaven? That not everyone who tithes goes to heaven? That not every elder or altar guild member or Sunday School teacher goes to heaven?
Repent. This parable is a warning. The irony in is that we don’t realize we are as quick to judge and dismiss the Pharisee as he was to judge and dismiss the tax collector. We see him as self-righteous and elitist and that runs up hard against our American ideals. We can take tax collectors and abortionists, drug addicts and sexual deviants, but we can’t take smugness or putting on airs or the dreaded “holier-than-thou.” And we really can’t take anyone who takes himself seriously! It sometimes seems as though the only virtue our society knows, besides “tolerance,” is that of one’s ability to laugh at oneself and to never be serious.
We should be sympathetic to the Pharisee. Imagine how you’d feel if you had to face the man who’d beat you up or humiliated you at work or had taken your wife. We don’t know what the Pharisee was going through, but we know he was hurting, we know that he’d had his heart broken, we know that he’d been betrayed, we know that he’d been slandered, we know that he’d been afraid, we know that he’d felt shame and guilt and regret. How do we know? Because the Bible says: “Nothing has befallen you that is not common to man.”
I am convinced that we could, and we ought to, look at one another with a great deal more pity than we do. There are women here who are secretly grieving for miscarriages. They don’t want to air it publically, but they are hurting. Is it any surprise then if they are just a bit short with you? There are men here who are struggling with addictions and haven’t told anyone. Is it really that terrible if they don’t notice you and smile at you and act like you are a long lost friend? There are people here with mental illnesses, people ho are still dealing with the abuse they suffered as children, who have terrible regrets and nightmares, who are lonely, who are depressed, who are afraid. You see: we are all the same. Nothing has befallen you that is not common to man. That means not only are you not worse than other people, more screwed up, less worthy, but it also means you aren’t better and the sympathy you would have from others is what you owe to them. From time to time we all behave badly. We would all like a little understanding and sympathy and an occasional pass without human judging.
I am not saying that sorrow or pain justifies bad behavior. It doesn’t. Yet we would all have the world be a little gentler to our daughters the day after their husbands walk out on them. We could start with ourselves, instead of being annoyed or becoming angry because someone is rude to us or cuts us off in traffic or disgusted because someone is unkempt or smells a bit, we might allow ourselves to moved to pity and kindness. In other words, we might just do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
The Pharisee behaved horribly. He was self-righteous. He didn’t ask God for mercy. He didn’t think he needed it. He went home damned. But there is also a positive example in the parable. There is the tax collector. He was sorry for his sins. He was humble before God and man. He confessed and asked for mercy. He went home justified even though he was a scoundrel.
You don’t have to be a public scoundrel to need forgiveness. You can be a private scoundrel. You can have secret sins and horrible thoughts and you can even be self-righteous like the Pharisee to need forgiveness.
Thank God that He is always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve. He is in fact eager to forgive, abundant in His mercy, loving of both tax collectors with shameful pasts and the proud church goers with secret sins. Christ died for your sins. He rose again for your justification. He absolves you this day, restores you, and feeds you. He sends you home justified – not made perfect, not without a memory of the past, not yet free from temptation – but justified, declared righteous for Christ’s sake, accepted and loved by God
This is, in fact, the essence of our religion and the chief attribute of our God: His mercy endures forever.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.